Rio Tinto steps in to manage Ranger uranium mine rehab

Traditional owners have cautiously welcomed the appointment of Rio Tinto to manage the rehabilitation of the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu.

Energy Resources Australia (ERA), which operated Ranger and is 86.3 per cent owned by Rio Tinto, announced a new management services agreement for the rehabilitation project in a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange on Wednesday.

In March, ERA announced it had applied for a renewal of the Jabiluka mineral lease within Kakadu, but Mirarr traditional owners are opposed to the move, saying they have concerns about the financial position of the company.

All mining operations and uranium processing at Ranger ceased on January 8, 2021.

The Ranger uranium mine
Rio Tinto will manage all aspects of the Ranger mine rehabilitation under a new agreement.

Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirarr traditional owners of the former mine and the Jabiluka mineral lease area, said the announcement was a long overdue recognition of the inability of ERA to manage the rehabilitation project.

Gundjeihmi chief executive Thalia van den Boogaard said Mirarr were alarmed in November 2022 to learn the Department of Industry, Science and Resources had allowed ERA to draw down $56.8 million on the limited Ranger rehabilitation trust funds held by the government, in order to prop up the company’s finances.

ERA has said more than $1.2 billion would be needed to complete the rehabilitation project. 

The drawdown left $481 million in the trust.

“That fund is intended to be the safety net ... that request showed us ERA was in trouble," Ms van den Boogaard said.

"This is a step in the right direction as a major operator with expertise like Rio Tinto is needed to turn this around.”

Under the new agreement, Rio Tinto will manage all aspects of the mine rehabilitation. 

“As the project moves into a new phase it will benefit from Rio Tinto’s global expertise in mine closure," ERA chief executive Brad Welsh said.

All Rio Tinto services will be provided at cost once they commence. 

Rio Tinto has also agreed to provide some services free, including the first 12 months of management team costs and access to internal technical expertise. 

ERA will continue to directly manage its commitments in the town of Jabiru, along with its corporate and financial affairs, and assets and governance, including the Jabiluka mineral lease renewal.

Corben Mudjandi
Mirarr man Corben Mudjandi said it was disappointing ERA still managed the Jabiluka mineral lease.

Mirarr traditional owner Corben Mudjandi said while it was good news that Rio Tinto would manage the clean-up at Ranger, ERA was still in financial dire straits. 

"It's also disappointing that one of the few things that will be left under ERA management is the Jabiluka mineral lease," he said.

"It's time for both the Northern Territory and Commonwealth governments to pay attention to Kakadu and dismiss the notion that ERA is in any state to hold on to a mineral lease anywhere, let alone over dual World Heritage-listed country that a generation of Australians fought to protect.”

Uranium prices have risen over the past year, meaning several previously mothballed projects in Australia and overseas are being considered for reopening, including the Honeymoon mine in South Australia, 80km northwest of Broken Hill.

Ranger was Australia’s longest continuous uranium mine. 

ERA said the new agreement is expected to be implemented in the second quarter of 2024, with a transition period of two to three months, and an updated rehabilitation timeline for the Ranger project will be announced.

Either Rio Tinto or ERA may terminate the new management service agreement if there is an insolvency event.

License this article

What is AAPNews?

For the first time, Australian Associated Press is delivering news straight to the consumer.

No ads. No spin. News straight-up.

Not only do you get to enjoy high-quality news delivered straight to your desktop or device, you do so in the knowledge you are supporting media diversity in Australia.

AAP Is Australia’s only independent newswire service, free from political and commercial influence, producing fact-based public interest journalism across a range of topics including politics, courts, sport, finance and entertainment.

What is AAPNews?
The Morning Wire

Wake up to AAPNews’ morning news bulletin delivered straight to your inbox or mobile device, bringing you up to speed with all that has happened overnight at home and abroad, as well as setting you up what the day has in store.

AAPNews Morning Wire
AAPNews Breaking News
Breaking News

Be the first to know when major breaking news happens.

Notifications will be sent to your device whenever a big story breaks, ensuring you are never in the dark when the talking points happen.

Focused Content

Enjoy the best of AAP’s specialised Topics in Focus. AAP has reporters dedicated to bringing you hard news and feature content across a range of specialised topics including Environment, Agriculture, Future Economies, Arts and Refugee Issues.

AAPNews Focussed Content
Subscription Plans

Choose the plan that best fits your needs. AAPNews offers two basic subscriptions, all billed monthly.

Once you sign up, you will have seven days to test out the service before being billed.

AAPNews Full Access Plan
Full Access
  • Enjoy all that AAPNews has to offer
  • Access to breaking news notifications and bulletins
  • Includes access to all AAPNews’ specialised topics
Join Now
AAPNews Student Access Plan
Student Access
  • Gain access via a verified student email account
  • Enjoy all the benefits of the ‘Full Access’ plan at a reduced rate
  • Subscription renews each month
Join Now
AAPNews Annual Access Plan
Annual Access
  • All the benefits of the 'Full Access' subscription at a discounted rate
  • Subscription automatically renews after 12 months
Join Now

AAPNews also offers enterprise deals for businesses so you can provide an AAPNews account for your team, organisation or customers. Click here to contact AAP to sign-up your business today.

Download the app
Download AAPNews on the App StoreDownload AAPNews on the Google Play Store